Assisted Living Facility’s Fire Code Violations

Oct. 11, 2018

This assisted living center settled with the county for a lawsuit over the center’s multiple fire code violations. Don’t let this happen to your building.

Assisted living facilities fulfill a very specific mission – caring for residents who are unable to take care of themselves at home. Families trust centers like these to stay on top of all of the important tasks that residents can no longer do for themselves, from cooking nutritious meals to simply keeping residents safe and comfortable.

That includes taking measures to detect fires as soon as they start, as well as keeping them from spreading. Assisted living centers and other healthcare facilities need to be vigilant about keeping fire detection and suppression systems in good repair, lest a fire get out of control and endanger people who may not be able to evacuate on their own.

One assisted living center in Virginia recently settled with the county in a lawsuit stemming from several fire code violations at the center, Steve Roberts Jr. from the Virginia Gazette reports. The settlement underscores why it’s so crucial to inspect, test and maintain fire safety systems.

What Happened

Colonial Manor, a 55-person residence in Williamsburg, VA, received citations on Feb. 8 for a dry sprinkler system that was out of service, a fire extinguisher in need of maintenance and a non-functioning emergency escape light, according to the Gazette. A follow-up inspection was scheduled for Feb. 28, and in the meantime, a center employee was assigned to walk the building looking for fires.

Colonial Manor’s main fire safety vendor, Fire and Life Safety America of Portsmouth, VA, attempted to mend the pipes of the dry sprinkler system, but the patches ultimately failed, facility owner Pedro Becerra told the Virginia Gazette.

The other code violations were resolved quickly and assistant administrator Amy Smith informed James City County Assistant Fire Marshal Michelle Toutaint on Feb. 28 that bids were underway for the piping repairs.

Doing your own regularly scheduled checks will ensure you can pass a formal inspection, and regular maintenance will keep your fire detection and extinguishing systems in good shape.

Another notice on March 26 gave the facility another 30 days to fix the sprinkler system, but by May 1, the system was still not repaired, the Gazette states. Becerra cited denied insurance claims on the broken system as a factor contributing to the delay, and Fire and Life Safety America opted out of any future work on the fire safety system.

[Related: Ways Your Fire Safety System Could Be Falling Short]

The county attorney ultimately filed an injunction on May 14 to compel Colonial Manor to fix the remaining violation. The case was settled July 25, and on Aug. 21 Becerra pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the state fire code. Becerra was ordered to pay $1,101 in fines and fees within a year, and he also spent about $48,000 to expedite the installation of the new sprinkler system.

Make Sure You’re Not Violating Fire Code

Don’t let this happen to you!

Doing your own regularly scheduled checks will ensure you can pass a formal inspection, and regular maintenance will keep your fire detection and extinguishing systems in good shape. That also means you’ll likely have some warning before your current system fails, allowing you more time to weigh the benefits of different products and put together a plan to finance the project.

Start with timely inspections of sprinklers:

  • Weekly: Conduct quick checks like making sure valves are open and the heating works properly so your pipes don’t freeze.
  • Monthly: Check electronic components and the functionality of any parts that are visible and accessible. Try this checklist for streamlining your in-house inspections.

A formally qualified tester should come in on a regular basis and test the equipment as well, and you should make sure you’re keeping up on all of the maintenance that the manufacturer recommends.

Piping is vulnerable to corrosion, which can pit through a pipe wall in as few as two to three years. Code only requires owners to check piping interiors every five years, so you could have an issue in your facility and not even know it. Dry pipe systems like the one Colonial Manor had are at even higher risk for corrosion than their wet-pipe counterparts.

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This course takes an in-depth look at codes and standards applicable to the design, construction, inspection, testing, maintenance, and operation of a building. 

You’ll not only gain an understanding of crucial life-saving resources and requirements but also identify areas of accountability in regards to applying these important codes and standards:

  • NFPA 101®Life Safety Code® 
  • NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 72®National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®
  • NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives 
  • NFPA 3000TM (PS), Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program
  • NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing
  • NFPA 70E®Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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